Of the Southeastern Conference's six BCS championships in a row, four (Alabama two, LSU and Auburn once each) have been won by schools from the Western Division.
Even as strong as defending national champ Alabama and reigning SEC champion LSU are expected to be, I think this could be the year when the balance of power starts to swing back toward the East (projected overall and conference records in parentheses):
1. Georgia (11-1, 7-1). For the second straight season, the Bulldogs have a schedule that does not include SEC West titans Alabama, LSU or Arkansas.
1. Florida (10-2, 7-1). Ex-UK offensive coordinator Brent Pease replaces Charlie Weis calling plays for Will Muschamp. With 17 starters returning, flying-below-the-radar Gators are dangerous.
3. South Carolina (9-3, 6-2). Back-to-back road games at LSU and Florida are going to cost the Head Ball Coach the Eastern Division championship.
4. Tennessee (7-5, 3-5). Will six wins and a minor bowl bid buy Derek Dooley another season?
4. Vanderbilt (6-6, 3-5). Six wins should put Vanderbilt (15 returning starters) in a bowl game in consecutive seasons for the first time ever.
6. Missouri (5-7, 2-6). In its first season in the SEC, it is the outcome of a testy road game at Central Florida that could determine whether Mizzou is eligible for an eighth straight bowl game.
7. Kentucky (4-8, 1-7). If the abundant young players on the Kentucky roster show promise, does that buy Joker Phillips a fourth season?
1. LSU (11-1, 7-1). Better quarterback play this season (from ex-Georgia QB Zach Mettenberger) will help compensate for the unexpected loss of the Honey Badger.
1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1). Last time 'Bama was defending national champion, it lost three games in 2010. Nick Saban will use that as motivation to ensure something similar doesn't happen in 2012.
3. Arkansas (8-4, 4-4). Though John L. Smith inherits a roster loaded with proven offensive play-makers, the Hogs are going to find that Bobby Petrino's offense doesn't work nearly as well without Bobby Petrino calling the plays.
3. Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4). Bulldogs get the "50-50 games" at home in 2012 and need to take advantage.
5. Texas A&M (7-5, 3-5). Kevin Sumlin built a reputation as an offensive genius at Houston and now gets to test himself in the best conference in college football.
6. Auburn (5-7, 2-6). Gene Chizik is on his way to finding out that, in the SEC, the seats get blistering hot beneath even national championship-winning coaches.
7. Mississippi (3-9, 0-8). After last season's collapse (2-10, 0-8) cost Houston Nutt his job, new coach Hugh Freeze (who led Arkansas State to 10 wins last season) should get a contract extension if he somehow wins a couple of SEC games.
Georgia 28, LSU 26
SEC bowl teams
BCS Championship Game: Georgia
Capital One: Alabama
Cotton: South Carolina
Gator: Mississippi State
Music City: Tennessee
Liberty: Texas A&M
BBVA Compass: Vanderbilt
Independence: No SEC entrant eligible
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com